With a deadline to add 500 new shelter beds by July, The City is still scrambling to identify resources and locations for another 288 beds, officials said at the opening ceremony for a new Navigation Center in the South of Market neighborhood Wednesday.
The summer deadline is part of Mayor London Breed’s plan, announced in October, to add a total of 1,000 new shelter beds by 2020.
The new SoMa Navigation Center adds 84 beds — 20 of which are reserved exclusively for women in a separate dorm– next to the I-80 Freeway at 680 Bryant St., bringing the number of shelter beds added since Breed announced her goal to 212, said Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) Director Jeff Kositsky.
The new center already has 34 clients, and Kositsky estimated that the remaining beds would be filled in “the next two weeks.”
While Breed was joined by Kositsky, Assemblymember Phil Ting, newly instated District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and city department leaders Wednesday to celebrate the center’s official opening as an important step toward addressing San Francisco’s homelessness crisis, plans for funding and siting the remaining beds have yet to be announced.
“We have a few more projects in the queue,” said Kositsky, who mentioned a transitional housing facility for women but did not offer specifics. “We are looking for other sites.”
“[Finding] site locations is always the biggest challenge,” Jeff Cretan, Breed’s spokesperson, told the San Francisco Examiner. A Navigation Center for Transitional Age Youth, for instance, was fully “funded in the last budget cycle,” but a location for it has yet to be determined, he said.
“We are trying to figure that piece out,” said HSH Spokesperson Randy Quezada. He said the department hopes to count the long-promised youth Navigation Center toward the beds needed to meet Breed’s deadline, but nothing is set in stone. He noted that the department is also working on “figuring out how to utilize space better” and possibly “expanding other sites.”
Cretan said Breed is banking on using some of $181 million in funding from an unexpected windfall from the state Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) late last year to pay for at least some of the remaining beds.
City leaders, including Haney, however, have called for those funds to be spent on other efforts, including paying for wage increases for educators across The City.
With more than 7,500 people counted as homeless on San Francisco’s streets on any given night, Breed has pushed to move quickly on addressing homelessness.
“We need to make sure that regardless of the challenges we face as a city in terms of building more housing, regardless of issues of support for funding for programs, we have to have places for people to go…where they are able to stay for 24 hours and not be told they have to leave in the morning,” said Breed on Wednesday.
She added that her plan for 1,000 new shelter beds “is an ambitious goal because we haven’t increased the number of shelter beds by that amount since 1989 earthquake.”
Breed acknowledged the successes of the low-barrier-to-entry navigation centers, where clients are allowed to enter with their belongings, pets and partners, and stay anywhere from seven days to several months. A total of 623 people have transitioned out of Navigation Centers into permanent housing, 144 found temporary placements and over “1,229 have been reconnected with families,” Breed said.
The SoMa Center is the fifth Navigation Center currently operated by HSH, for a total of 493 Navigation Center beds, according to Quezada. The Department of Public Health operates a sixth, Hummingbird Place, focused on serving individuals experiencing mental health issues and addiction with 29 beds at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
Breed credited private and public partnerships for the Navigation Center program’s expansion in San Francisco.
As a private partner, Google “provided $3 million to get this place open,” said Breed, referring to the SoMa Center, which is also the second of The City’s Navigation centers to be built on Caltrans land.
Last year, Assemblymember Phil Ting passed AB 857, which enables The City to use underutilized Caltrans properties for emergency food and shelter programs at affordable rates.
Ting, who also secured $27.6 million in funding for San Francisco toward Navigation Centers, housing and shelter programs, said that Caltrans spends some “$60 million per year shoo-ing people off their land,” referring to homeless individuals settling along freeways and on underutilized Caltrans properties.
Caltrans is now renting the site of the SoMa Center to The City at $1 per month, according to Caltrans District 4 Director Tony Tavares, who added that he was excited about the new partnership with the City, calling homelessness a “social issue.”
“This location is now suitable as a permanent housing site and will also provide an entry point to help people on their journey out of homelessness [which] will balance the urgency of the issue, the safety of the affected people and the practical and operational requirements of the highway system,” said Tavares.
Some of the homeless who have found refuge near the I-80 freeway agree.
“Two of my friends are staying [at the SoMa Center] now,” said a homeless woman who gave her name as Julie. “It’s a good place.”